Moira Feeney owns two cats, goes with her mother to the Scituate Animal Shelter often, and will tell you she has a soft spot for calico kittens.
So when Christmas came around the corner, it was hardly surprising that the Wampatuck Elementary fourth-grader told her parents she wanted to do something special for the animals at the shelter down the street.
“A lot of kids say, ‘Instead of bringing me birthday presents, can you make donations?’ ’’ said her mother, Ali Crehan. “She was thinking about doing that for her birthday — it was just in December. But she’s at a new school this year and she had new people coming to her party. She didn’t know if they would get it.”
Just two days before Christmas, Moira settled on an idea. She sat down and penned a letter to Santa, asking him to give a present to the Scituate Animal Shelter rather than bring one to her.
As is tradition in her family, Santa brings every child just one gift each year. But the decision to give it up wasn’t all that difficult, Moira said.
It’s “because I love animals,” the 10-year-old girl said without hesitation. “All my life I’ve had cats and have had some interaction with animals.”
Moira even hosted a lemonade stand last summer to benefit the shelter, and recalls fondly the time three years ago that her mother adopted the family’s second cat at the shelter.
Even though the request was sent to the North Pole at the last minute, Moira’s Christmas wishes were not unheard.
Yet rather than donating something directly to the shelter, Santa got Moira involved. Christmas morning, Moira bounded into the living room to see a working toy train under the tree. Inside one of the train’s cars was a gift certificate to Petco.
“[My husband and I] said, ‘Well, how could Santa help make this happen?’ ’’ Crehan said.
“Because a lot of the fun is actually bringing something over and getting to pick things out and so on, so Santa thought it would be a great idea to get her a gift certificate for Petco, so she could go to the store and pick things out.”
According to Crehan, Santa’s note to Moira said he always makes a point to stop by the shelter, but this year he would let the little girl in on the excitement.
Crehan, a volunteer and photographer for the shelter, knew better than to go out and mindlessly buy items for the nonprofit organization. Instead, she and Moira went down to the shelter and asked what items they needed.
The list wasn’t long, and mother and daughter went out shopping. When Moira dropped the items off, the shelter staff took a photo of Moira with a kitten and posted it on Facebook.
“What would we do without the kindness of little children?” the Scituate shelter wrote in the photo. “Always amazed at their giving spirit.”
A few days later, Moira was again wandering room to room in the shelter, listing off the names of all the animals still waiting for homes, and checking off the items she had donated out loud.
“I got some dog treats, cat treats, timothy hay, [and] wood chews so the rabbits and gerbils can chew on them,” she said.
According to Treasa Downey, the shelter director, encountering that kind of generosity is not unusual for the Scituate organization. Typically, the shelter at least once a week sees a child performing a similarly selfless act.
In the summer, many of the donations come from lemonade stands, yard sales, or cookie sales. Sometimes kids give their birthday and holiday presents.
“It really benefits directly with the animals, but it’s also wonderful for the other children to see it,” Downey said. “It’s also a morale booster for the volunteers. When the kids come in, [show] that this child has been so selfless, it’s a great morale booster for the people at the front desk, our volunteers, other donors. If a child can do it, anyone can do it.”
Though individual donations are small, together they benefit the shelter’s bottom line, Downey said.
“It means that we don’t have to buy certain supplies,” Downey said. “At the end of the month, it adds up. At the end of the year, it adds up. . . . We can spend it on a toy for the dog or toy for the cat.”
Those donations, alongside the volunteer work done by people like Ali, help place hundreds of animals a year. In 2012, the shelter placed 319 animals, an increase of 100 from the year before.
“I think there are four part-time/full-time staff, and the rest [are] volunteers. We couldn’t do it without volunteers,” Downey said. “They are doing this because they just love dogs, they love cats. It’s phenomenal. And they come back every single day of the year.”
Moira, too, will be back. Even on the way out the door, she pointed to a photo of a pit bull still waiting for a home. It seemed Moira already had her eyes on her next project.